Psychiatric Service Dogs: Saving Dogs and Changing Lives

Healing Companions is a 501(c)(3) organization, serving mentally ill residents of Northeast Ohio. Through a dedicated approach to community mental health, a three-fold benefit emerges: a shelter dog is saved and trained as a psychiatric service dog (PSD) to provide assistance to a person experiencing a mental disorder.

This person benefits from a higher level of functioning and participation in society, with help from their dog. Shelter dogs are trained basic skills by inmates, who in turn gain job skills and “soft skills” to help them obtain jobs and contribute to the community upon release. These services go a long way to saving the lives of dogs and humans alike, as well as keeping them a part of the world and the community.

Won’t you consider supporting Healing Companions to help us continue the work we do?



PSD Fundraiser: Michele

Michele is a retired music teacher suffering from bipolar depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder. She was misdiagnosed for several years before receiving the correct diagnosis. A year ago, as her doctor tried to find the right combination of medication that would best help her, she found herself on what she calls a “medication carousel”.

Even today, she does not believe she has the right combination of medication that is bHealingCompanions_CircleGraphFinal-01est suited for her needs and the side effects have been intolerable.

Her typical day consists of working part-time, practicing her instruments and other daily activities, but her condition severely interferes with her ability to function. She often has problems getting out of bed, taking medication on schedule and remembering to eat. She also has trouble focusing, keeping to a daily routine and taking care of her basic needs. This has led to isolation, severe anxiety and panic attacks. Her fears can be immobilizing so she keeps people at a distance.

Therapy has been helpful, but it still has not provided her with the independence and stability that she needs on a daily basis.

After much research, Michele discovered Healing Companions and deeply believes that a psychiatric service dog will help bring her the stability and freedom that she needs. A PSD can be trained the tasks that will alleviate her symptoms so she can lead the life she wants and give back to her community.

Please help us help Michele by making a donation today.



Service Dogs, Therapy Animals and Emotional Support Animals: What’s the Difference?

While there is a great deal of confusion around these terms, there are definite differences between service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional support animals.  They each have a different role in the way that they help people.

Service dogs are trained to assist people with disabilities.  There are different types of service dogs such as guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf and psychiatric service dogs for those severely limited in their ability to function due to mental illness. These dogs are considered medical necessities as they are trained to help their owners with specific tasks that are directly tied to their owners’ disabilities/symptoms.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA see: ensures that people with disabilities have the legal right to bring their service dogs anywhere in public, as long as the dogs are not a disturbance or threat to others. Also, because service dogs are usually on the job when they are in public, it is best not to approach them so they can focus on their work.

Therapy animals provide psychological or physiological support to others.  They are not legally defined by federal law. They are generally pets whose owners work to provide them with basic obedience training that is then tested, along with their temperament.  They must be well-behaved, obedient and not bothered by disturbances.    There are a number of organizations that test and certify therapy dogs. Therapy dogs often visit people in hospitals and nursing homes to provide comfort and affection.  This can be very therapeutic for people who have little contact with others and therefore feel lonely or neglected.  Therapy animals can also help people with mental or physical therapy, as well as people that have experienced stressful situations like natural disasters.  They are also very helpful with children or people who are learning how to read, as they provide an attentive, affectionate, non-judgmental audience. They can vastly improve the physical, mental, emotional and social well-being of those around them.  Unlike service dogs however, therapy animals have no rights to enter public places like restaurants, businesses, and stores as they are generally considered pets.

Emotional support animals (ESAs) provide therapeutic support to their elderly or disabled owners through companionship, affection, and a positive, non-judgmental regard.   A doctor or medical professional can prescribe an emotional support animal for a person with a verifiable disability if it’s determined that their patient would benefit from an animal companion.  ESAs help to alleviate or lessen some symptoms of their owners’ disabilities as their companionship and unconditional affection can be a tremendous help to a person’s mental health.  They are also treated as pets with no special privileges to accompany their owners in public establishments.  However, their owners may request residential accommodations, such as the waiving of a ‘no pets’ policy, as long as they can provide proof of disability.  Refusal to make accommodations for those with disabilities is considered discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  ESAs are not task-trained like service dogs, but they must be well-behaved pets. The animal must be fully toilet-trained and with no bad habits that could disturb neighbors such as loud and/or frequent barking or noise.  Also, the animal must not pose any danger to other tenants or workpersons that service the residential building and area.   They generally can’t go where pets would not be able to go without permission, with the exception of flying in the cabin of an aircraft, thanks to The Air Carrier Access Act. (

To briefly summarize:

  • Service dogs are trained to execute tasks to help mitigate the effects of their disabled owner’s symptoms.
  • Therapy animals work with their owners/handlers to improve the health of others with comfort and affection. They have NO public access rights.
  • Emotional support animals help to combat loneliness and social phobias by providing companionship to their owners. They have NO public access rights and are not task trained.

They have different jobs, but they all provide a wonderful service to their owners and the public at large.

For more information refer to:



Training dogs with inmates at GRC

Jane Miller recently spent a day at The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Grafton Correctional Institution, Grafton Reintegration Center working with inmates on training techniques and skills Healing Companions, Inc. service dogs need to perform. These range from teaching them to train the dogs basic skills (sit, heel, come, watch me, go to mat, down, etc.) as well as to tuck their tail (so their tails are not stepped on when they are in restaurants, theaters, etc)., not shake in public places and or eat food left on the floor They also learn to train specific tasks clients need like pawing, nudging, leaning, turning on lights, room checks, retrieves and many other tasks. Jane teaches the inmates relaxation/stress reduction techniques for themselves and the dogs incorporating canine massotherapy, TTouch, Reiki, meditation, breathing, and visualization.


Inmates at The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Grafton Correctional Institution, Grafton Reintegration Center learn techniques for training psychiatric service dogs with Jane Miller of Healing Companions, Inc.


Amanda and her service dog Lola

Lola_homeAmanda was diagnosed with PTSD after a history of sexual abuse during her childhood. She has suffered from severe anxiety and flashbacks since that time. A year ago she adopted Lola, a psychiatric service dog in training with Healing Companions.
Amanda is in the early stages of training Lola. Lola completed her basic training with the “Healing Companions” trainers at Grafton Correctional Facility. Amanda and Lola spent their initial months together getting to know each other and figuring out each other’s quirks. For the past few months Amanda has been working with the Healing Companions trainer weekly learning how to train Lola to help her in times of anxiety. Lola will tap her foot or step on it. She may also nudge Amanda with her nose or lean against her legs. These things help to bring Amanda to the present and ground her. Lola helps Amanda pay more attention and be more focused on what is happening in the moment instead of what has happened in the past.
Lola_parkShortly after Amanda adopted Lola, she also visited the trainers at Grafton Correctional Facility to share her story with them. She described it as an “amazing experience” to meet them, especially the man who trained Lola. The visit gave her a much better understanding of the work they do with the shelter dogs and the bond they form. She was profoundly moved and touched by the connection they had with Lola and the depth of excitement Lola and the trainers had upon her entrance into the room where they were awaiting her arrival. Lola ran in the room with gusto and joy straight to her trainer and circled around with excitement to see all of them. It was so beautiful for Amanda to watch Lola’s reaction to returning and for the trainers to hear Amanda’s story. She was happy to share how their work has so profoundly impacted her life.

The trainers were equally grateful for her visit as well. One inmate expressed that “To see how our work with the dogs can help others makes it worth every moment. It’s hard to sometimes to see the dogs leave, but to know the effect they have on others’ lives is amazing!”


Another inmate who visited with Amanda wrote, “I’m glad that Lola has had such a positive effect on your life. What you had to say made me realize that my life is going in the right direction.”

Amanda is grateful to the Healing Companions organization and to the trainers for their services. Lola has brought a lot of joy, laughter and lightness into her life.

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